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Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Bibi-GOP Clown Show

Republicans invited the Israeli prime minister to Congress to embarrass Obama, not to defuse a nuclear threat.

That Bibi is such a piece of work.

On March 3, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walked into our Capitol as though he owned the place, stuck a thumb in President Barack Obama’s eye, and walked out to multitudes of cheering Republicans.

Is that a mensch or what?

Faced with a tough election back home, Netanyahu got Speaker John Boehner to let him stage a bizarre campaign rally on the floor of our House of Representatives. He used the opportunity to trash Obama’s ongoing Iran negotiations so that he could look like a tough guy to Israeli voters.

And maybe it worked.

It was a good speech — if you ignore the fact that the details of the negotiations are still a mystery, and that in any case it’s bad form to attack a valued ally in his own living room.

But maybe it didn’t work. Early returns from Israel indicate that people there were less impressed with his speech than House Republicans were. They’ve seen Bibi’s act before. Been there, done that, and got the T-shirt.

Still, he came across as eloquent, forceful, and persuasive, particularly about Iran’s alleged untrustworthiness. The big hole in his speech was his lack of a realistic alternative to what we’re doing.

Tighten sanctions until Iran yells “Uncle?” That’s not about to happen.

The negotiations aren’t just about us. We’re in this with our sanction partners — the U.K., France, Germany, China, and Russia. They’re reluctant to keep the sanctions we already have, let alone apply new ones.

What’s the alternative then?

Netanyahu denies he’s beating war drums, but that’s the only place the trail he’s blazing leads to.
It wouldn’t be the first time. He was one of the chief foreign lobbyists arguing for our invasion of Iraq.

“If you take out Saddam,” he said at the time, “I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region.” He promised that “people sitting right next door in Iran, young people and many others, will say the time of such regimes, of such despots, is gone.”

Where can I cash in my guarantee?

Saddam, for all of his bad sides (despot, murderer, and thief, for starters), was the only effective countervailing force to Iran in the Middle East. Without an ayatollah so much as raising his hand, we erased that force at a cost of tens of thousands of lives and a trillion dollars and counting. And we didn’t even get the T-shirt.

So now Bibi complains about Iran taking over the Middle East? I think the technical word for that is chutzpah.

I don’t know whether this deal with Iran will happen, or whether it’s a good one or a bad one. But I do know this: Netanyahu isn’t the person to make the call.

Not that I blame him for trying. He’s watching out for his country’s interests. (I don’t think he’s doing a very good job of it, but that’s another column.) Besides, he’s trying to win an election, and everything’s fair in love, war, and politics.

I blame Congress, particularly the Republican majority. These aren’t serious people.

They filter every challenge facing the nation — immigration, health care, education, the economy — through a deep-seated, irrational hatred of President Barack Obama. So Republican solutions, when there are any, arrive in a misshapen, grotesque anti-Obama form.

To listen to the current crop of GOP presidential hopefuls is to think they were running against Obama. Someone better tell them he won’t be on the ballot.

That’s what Netanyahu’s visit was all about for Republican lawmakers — not the threat of a nuclear Iran but another chance to embarrass Obama, even at the cost of sabotaging our national interest.

What a clown show. Remind me again why this is the greatest country on earth. At times like this I sometimes forget.

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.